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  • Shelly Albaum

I Found The Russians

Updated: Sep 17


TL;DR:

  • Russians have hired social media trolls to whip Americans into an unthinking rage at Biden and the DNC

  • The Democratic and Republican establishments have united behind Biden to defeat Fascism (that's why Bernie was moved aside)

  • Americans are obviously susceptible to the same propaganda techniques that fascists have used throughout history

  • American citizens' immediate task is to try to rescue their friends trapped in propaganda echo chambers so they can think clearly enough to help defeat Fascism

  • If Fascism is defeated, the party of the now-combined Democratic/Republican establishments will try to exert single-dominant-party power over a fragmented opposition

  • The defeat of Fascism would create a historic opportunity for Progressives to unite in a new populist center-left party to oppose the consolidated Democratic/Republican party

  • Destroying Trumpism is an essential step for the emergence of a center-left opposition; otherwise, Fascism will become the opposition party

  • To protect against future propaganda attacks, America must rebuild its public education systems -- elementary, secondary, and higher -- that have been gutted by 50 years of attacks. Critical thinking, government, and civic participation must be at the center of a new curriculum for self-governance

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Update September 17 2020: FBI again confirms Russians very, very active denigrating Joe Biden via proxies on social media.

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Setting the Stage


As America approaches its electoral cataclysm, it is possible to see the outlines of an epic political battle that normally would be hidden. Understanding what is really going on can help voters play their small but important role.


Several major forces are in play.


First, as is obvious to everyone, the Republican Party has been taken over by fascists who are gutting democratic structures and preparing for authoritarian rule. It is conventional to call this Trumpism, but obviously Trump's brain is not the mastermind of anything. Others are using him to accomplish this.


Second, the remnants of the ideologically conservative -- as opposed to fascist -- Republican Party have jumped ship to join forces with the Democratic Party to oppose Trump's consolidation of fascist power in America. High profile examples would be George F. Will, Colin Powell, and John Kasich. The New York Times published a long list of Republicans defecting to Biden -- so did Forbes. And don't forget the entire cast at The Lincoln Project. Conservative columnists at the Washington Post like Jennifer Rubin declare that the entire Republican Party needs to be destroyed. Such articles run in The Atlantic, The New Republic, USA Today, anywhere you look.


Third, Trump is preparing to corrupt the election and attempt to remain in office despite a near certain loss in the popular vote and even a loss in the electoral college. Trump has tampered with the mail system to prevent the dissemination or return of ballots. He has already falsely declared vote-by-mail unreliable to de-legitimate the upcoming result. He has directed his supporters to vote multiple times, which could further destabilize the vote count. Trump's enablers in the Senate blocked funding to improve election security. Trump has hinted will not leave office even if he loses the election, and he has suggested that he won't leave after a second term, either.


In 2020, Trump has refused to oppose Russian election interference, even while the Republican Senate's own report acknowledges that Russia remains a "grave threat" to interfere with our elections.


The Democratic Party understands what Trump is doing, so the Democrats are war-gaming in earnest potential election chaos scenarios and responses, and have an army of lawyers ready to respond on election day.


One more thing: Trump solicited and received help from Russia in 2016, continues to do it in 2020, and every reliable source says that there will be much more of that this election ("Russia is using a range of techniques to denigrate Joseph R. Biden Jr., American intelligence officials said Friday in their first public assessment that Moscow continues to try to interfere in the 2020 campaign to help President Trump.")


Trump's deference to Putin is shocking, whether it is because Trump is compromised or not.


From Russia With Love


Russia has two big obvious ways of participating in American elections.


First, Russia can directly interfere with the election by hacking computers related to politicians and voting. America uses insecure electronic voting systems that are vulnerable to hacking in many ways, and Russia has peculiar expertise that it can bring to bear.


Second, Russia can channel money into the elections in ways that Americans cannot, and which are undetectable. In 2016, the state of the art was Cambridge Analytica's use of social media micro-targeted advertising to depress votes among Democratic-friendly constituencies (by attacking Clinton) and to encourage voting among Trump-friendly constituencies (also by attacking Clinton).


Whether in 2020 Russia will be able to do more than it did in 2016 to directly interfere with the mechanics of the election remains to be seen. Even if all Russia can accomplish is to jam systems and seed chaos, that might constitute a big win for them.


Influence Campaign Spotted


But we can already see the fruits of Russia's other approach, which is to use social media to spread anti-Biden sentiment.


The Cambridge Analytica technique was focused on micro-targeted advertisements. No doubt that is occurring, but something else more insidious and more powerful is afoot as well.


If you spend any time on social media you will discover that groups on Reddit, Facebook, and presumably elsewhere are teeming with anti-Biden rage. I belong to a number of pro-Bernie Sanders groups that have been recently transformed into anti-DNC Hate Forums.


Bernie Sanders has been unequivocal from the start that Trump must be defeated by electing Joe Biden, and the rest of the Bernie Sanders coalition agrees -- including AOC, Cornel West, and Nathan J. Robinson. So you could think it would be a tall task to try to convince Bernie supporters that opposing Biden was worth doing even if it meant Trump remaining in power.


And yet that is exactly that argument that is being made, over and over and over, in the most strident and sometimes vicious ways.


Upon closer examination, it is not likely that these meme spreading hate mongers are Bernie supporters. They often have no public profile at all, or they seem to be located in Australia, New Zealand, or other foreign countries.


And that makes perfect sense. Why would Russia try to hire Americans to troll social media, when they could much more easily and covertly hire English-speaking social media trolls outside the US? The global gig economy makes it easy to hire people to swarm social media sites full-time. I bet the pay is pretty good. Here is an example of the memes they created and spread recently in just one pro-Bernie Facebook group:

And they aren't just on Bernie Sanders sites. They are telling Catholics that Biden isn't Catholic. They are telling women that Biden is a sexist. They are telling minorities that Biden will be the deporter- and incarcerater-in-chief.


There's no logic to these attacks. Whatever Biden is, Trump is worse. But the goal with these groups isn't to turn Biden voters into Trump voters. It's to turn Biden voters into non-voters, or Green voters, or write-in voters -- anything but a vote for Biden.


If you try to talk to these anti-Biden agents in a pro-Sanders forum, they are eager to tell you not that Biden is a radical leftist, but that Biden is a fascist, and that there is no difference between Biden and Trump:

Can you tell which of these voices might be a foreign provocateur, and which might be a propagandized American whipped into an incoherent rage and repeating nonsense? I can't. If the system is functioning properly, there should be a large number of inflamed Americans for each provocateur.


But if the propagandists can peel off a percent or so of Biden's support from each of several groups -- Progressives, Socialists, Women, Minorities, and Young People -- Biden's base -- then suppress another few percent by shutting down polling places, and blocking votes with ID requirements, and preventing mail-in votes from being delivered -- that might just be enough to tilt the election in key states.


But Can It Work?


Intuitively you would think that such transparent propaganda techniques would backfire. How do you convince anyone that a predictable career politician like Biden -- whether you like his ideology or not -- is worse than a lying, cheating, stealing, incompetent Trump?


But history teaches us that such techniques work wonders. The views of the world's most successful propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, have been accurately summarized thus: The fundamental principle of all propaganda was the repetition of effective arguments; but those arguments must not be too refined – there was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forceful, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not to the intellect. Truth was unimportant, and entirely subordinate to the tactics and psychology, but convenient lies must always be made credible.

One of the mechanisms by which repetition works is simply that making an argument seem familiar also makes it seem true. But social media supercharges this effect, because the repeated opinion can seem to come from the mouths of many different people, creating a bandwagon effect -- after all, a hundred Bernie Sanders supporters can't all be wrong, can they? Yes they can, especially if they are all reading from the same script and none of them is a Bernie Sanders supporter anyway.


Nonetheless, such attacks are demonstrably effective, and there is no doubt that they are being deployed right now as we speak, and there is also no doubt that they are having an effect -- just as Big Lies, Repetition, Scapegoating, Othering, Bandwagon attacks, and all the others, have proved effective throughout history.


The proof that they are being deployed will be apparent to anyone who has ventured into one of the social media echo chambers that is being targeted by the propagandists. What seemed to be a friendly community of optimistic progressives has suddenly transformed into an angry mob of irrational hatred.


The proof that they are having an effect can be found in the poll numbers for Biden. Given the economy, the COVID, and Trump's daily missteps and outrages, Biden should be polling at something like 80%, not 50%. Indeed, Trump didn't win a majority the first time, and the extent of the buyer's remorse among disillusioned Trump supporters should have buried Trump.


But that is not what we see.


Instead we see that Trump has had a ceiling and floor of support that has been absolutely unwavering for four years, unlike anything in the history of Presidential polling.


That tells us that the propaganda techniques I am describing aren't new this year. The only thing new this year is that the techniques have escaped Trump's base and are now being deployed on the general population where we can all see them.


It's going to continue for the next six weeks, and if the rules of propaganda have not changed, but the science has been further perfected, then it is reasonable to expect that a significant percentage of people who would have been supporting Joe Biden will be convinced to vote Green, vote Libertarian, vote for Kanye West, write-in Bernie, or be entirely dissuaded from voting. From here, based on current trends, it looks like it may well be enough to swing the election to Trump, or at least to move the election into the chaos zone where Trump will be difficult to remove from office because the outcome will simply be unclear, as it was in 2000.


The Anti-Facist Alliance


That takes us back to the Republican Party's joining forces with the Democratic Party.


The Power Elite in the United States, as defined by C. Wright Mills -- the people who own the corporations, run the mass media, and occupy the dominant positions in business, government, the military, and academia -- are very used to being in control. It once was the case that if all the major papers ignored you, or censured you, then you could not make any progress in politics or business. That was true for a hundred or so years.


But the Power Elite were surprised and troubled that all their contempt of Bernie Sanders did not extinguish his campaign in 2016. And they were downright alarmed when Trump managed to get the Republican nomination and then the Presidency despite their contempt.


But Trump's victory could be explained away -- Trump is a good publicist, Trump had no political record to run against, Clinton ran a poor campaign, and the mass media gave Trump huge amounts of free publicity and not much scrutiny because he was not taken seriously.


But what can't be explained away is the complete loss of control that became evident when all the big papers and TV stations (except Fox) more and more aggressively turned against Trump, and yet Trump's poll numbers never budged an inch.


So behind the scenes the power elite -- the Republican and Democratic establishments, along with the mass media, Wall Street, just about everybody -- joined forces to prepare to re-take control of the country.


For example, Financial leaders made it clear that they would support the Democratic nominee against Trump, as long as it was not Sanders or Warren. And the Lincoln Project was planned, founded, and funded long before it had any effect. Behind the scenes, the big players worked out a deal.

As a result of that deal, while Americans during the Democratic Primary imagined they were engaging in democracy, the Democratic Establishment ended the primary almost overnight by crowning a weak candidate who had performed very poorly in the early primaries and caucuses.


That's never been done before, but these were not ordinary times.


From the Establishment's standpoint, the problem with Bernie Sanders wasn't just that he would be no easier to manage than Trump. The problem was that taking back control of the country would require the Power Elite -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- to be united behind a single candidate, and they could not do that with Bernie Sanders, so Bernie Sanders had to be dispensed with, and he was.


Biden, by contrast, was somebody who had threatened nobody in any power structure ever in his life. So they chose Biden.


Destroying the appearance of democracy was unseemly, but a small price to pay for taking back control of the country.


This was a difficult move for the Power Elite to explain publicly. They worked hard to convince voters that Sanders would be depicted as a socialist and therefore that he would lose to Trump. But that was not the real reason Sanders was ousted from his leading position. It was because the power elite needed to unify against Trump, and could not unify behind Sanders.


Now it turns out that Biden is also depicted as a "radical leftist" every three seconds when Trump's team speaks to his base, no different from Sanders. Of course no rational person believes that Biden is a radical leftist, and it's not true about Sanders, either -- Sanders is a radical leftist like former Presidents Eisenhower and FDR were radical leftists.


But Rationality is not an important concept in this election, any more than Truth is an important concept in Trump's presidency.


Now that Trump's propaganda machine has been unleashed on the entire country -- calling Biden a "radical leftist" when talking to conservatives, and calling Biden "fascist" when talking to progressives -- the Power Elite find themselves more worried than ever.


You can tell because every hour some thoughtful, rational piece from some reputable news organization painstakingly and authoritatively documents that Trump is lying, Trump is incompetent, Trump is cheating, Trump is a criminal, Trump is unfit for office. And still, Trump's support is untouched.


Meanwhile, Biden's support erodes by a fraction of a percent every day -- especially in battleground states where the propaganda machine is most aggressively targeting its efforts.


In six weeks we'll find out if all the combined power of the Democratic and Republican establishments, with all the money on Wall Street, and all the power of the mass media (minus Fox News) can somehow pull it off and oust Trump. They might.


But I wouldn't count on it.


So What Should We Do?


Americans are mostly sidelined in this epic battle for control of America. We didn't get to choose the candidate. The amount of money we can donate to the cause in small denominations might help influence state and local races were a progressive is running close, but would only be a drop in the bucket compared to what Michael Bloomberg promised to spend to defeat Trump but so far has not spent.


And all the money in the world won't do any good if the Democratic Establishment doesn't know how to spend it. This is a propaganda war, and the Democrats just aren't very good at propaganda. The Republicans running the Lincoln Project are much better, but that assumes the battle is being fought in places were compelling little videos can make a difference.


But it's probably not. The war is probably being fought in peer-to-peer discussions -- including social media -- where the anti-Trump forces are likely being out-spent, and are clearly being outgunned, by the anti-Biden troll swarms I described earlier.


The problem is that some Americans are trapped in these propaganda echo chambers, and they are suffocating in lies -- lies that are intended to debilitate their participation in the electoral process.


And if there remains to us a single flickering hope, it is that the Trump forces would not be fighting so fiercely to suppress our votes if our votes did not matter. So our votes DO matter; Trump himself tells us that every day. It may be the only true thing he has ever communicated.

So I would urge all Americans to understand four simple truths:


(1) Fascism is bad and un-American. We fought World War II to defeat Fascism.


(2) No matter what you don't like about our government in general or the Democratic Party in particular, we can't fix it until we defeat Fascism. That is the only battle that matters right now.


(3) You must find your friends who are suffocating in propaganda chambers, and try to rescue them. You won't be able to rescue them all, but at least try, and if you can bring just one of them back to truth and rationality consider that an important win.


(4) You must find a way to vote, and make sure your vote gets counted, no matter how long you have to wait in line, and make sure your friends vote, too, because otherwise we may not have another meaningful election for a long time.


What If Trump Is Defeated?


The old Republican Party is now the new Fascist party of Trump, McConnell, and their cowardly enablers. The old Republican Establishment has fled.


If Trump wins, the last remaining democratic structures -- elections, an independent judiciary, and constitutional checks on executive power -- will be removed and America as a democratic constitutional republic will no longer exist.


But if Fascism is soundly defeated because Trump is removed from the White House, and his Republican enablers lose control in the Senate and in state legislatures, then what becomes of the strange alliance between the Democratic and former-Republican parties under Biden?


In theory, the Republicans could try to rehabilitate the old Party of Lincoln, but they probably won't attempt it. First, Trump's GOP will still be infested with Fascists. Second, it would be FAR easier and faster to simply exert influence over a Biden center-right government, which is where they want to be anyway.


So it can be expected that the Democratic Party will solidify as a center-right organization exercising single-party control over a fragmented opposition of democratic socialists, progressives, greens, populists, libertarians, and fascists.


That situation will end when either the fascist remnants of Trumpism reorganize into a stable opposition party to the Democrats (probably still calling themselves "Republicans"), or when Progressives unite around a center-left Party that replaces the old Democratic Party -- something like the People's Party or Berniecrats or a coalition including Greens and Democratic Socialists.


But to create space for the new center-left party, Trumpism will need to be soundly defeated, because in a two-party system there is only room for one opposition party, and the progressives need to take that spot and deny it to Fascists.


That's why progressives' first task is to defeat Trump, and their second task -- after defeating Trump -- is to coalesce around a political party capable of challenging the center-right Party-of-Biden-and-Republican-Establishment-Refugees. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


Can Progressives understand that they need to use Biden to defeat Trump, then work to defeat Biden?


The logic isn't difficult, and Progressive Leaders like Bernie, AOC, and Cornell West are all pointing the way.


The Future of Education in America


But if Americans don't think in a sophisticated way about politics, and don't really understand how self-governance is supposed to go, it's no surprise.


America's public education system -- elementary, secondary, and higher education -- have all been under relentless attack for 50 years.


If self-governance is to be our lot, rather than destruction be our lot, then we are going to have to re-educate ourselves about what would have to happen for 300 million people to live together peacefully and productively on a single continent. The tyranny of merit decreeing that the most talented of us are entitled to exploit everyone else and extract infinite riches from our shared economy simply must end.


Right now, the basic elements of government, civic participation, and critical thinking are barely taught at all in elementary and secondary schools, and are taught poorly or not at all in most colleges. That has to change.


There is no reason why every high school teaches advanced algebra and trigonometry skills that most students will never need but fails to teach logic, critical thinking, defense against propaganda, civics, government, and economics.


In a post-Trump era, should we be fortunate enough to get one, there will be much work to do to rebuild democracy in America. And we'll discuss and disagree about tactics when the time comes.


But right now there is just one job: Defeat Trump. Without that, nothing else good is likely to happen.


Pass it on.

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Resources for Rationality:

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